Tuesday, January 27, 2009 8:09 AM
This post is part of a series called Ignite Your Life. For background info on the series, please refer to previous posts on introducing the series and The 5 R's (where you can find links to the other posts in this series).
In the last two Relationship segments, we discussed how we need people and relationships as well as the importance of finding our tribe. In the final segment before we move on, I want to turn the tables a bit.
We talked previously about the reasons why we can be apprehensive or avoid relationships:
Fear of Rejection
Fear of Trust
Fear of Expectations
Notice the trend there: Fear. In each of those scenarios, fear is the backing emotion that keeps us from relationships and engaging with people. This is an important thing to remember because you’ll encounter it when dealing with others…but not from your view, from theirs.
Just as fear can hold us back, fear can also play a role in how others interact with us. In her book Rules for Renegades, Christine suggests that people are coming from two places: Love and Fear.
Fear of being seen as not as smart as others at the meeting.
Fear of not being taken seriously because of gender or race.
Fear of admitting a mistake was made.
Fear of retaliation for speaking their mind.
Fear of <insert some fear that you’ve seen in someone else here>
Even the people who seem the most confident have hidden, personal fears about themselves. When we sit down at a meeting, or work shoulder to shoulder with someone, or are being introduced to someone for the first time, all of us at some level react in a way to mitigate a fear…and its not always how you’d think.
When I was at the PDC this last October in LA, Microsoft treated us to a night at Universal Studios. Universal was doing a Halloween themed series of evenings complete with chainsaw wielding clowns, a walk through scenes of the Nightmare on Elm Street, a bio-hazard recreation zone complete with zombies, other frights. The Nightmare on Elm Street walkthrough was pretty intense, and to say I wasn’t a bit freaked out at what was coming next would be lying. But I laughed through the entire thing.
Laughing was my way of mitigating the fear. In the same way that the co-worker that fears being seen as inferior at a meeting might act adversarial. In the same way that the person who feels insecure acts outlandish to gain attention. In the same way that an employee angered by the actions of her company stays quiet to avoid backlash.
So how can we ensure that interactions with the people that come into our lives daily are positive experiences?
Be Honest About Your Fears
There’s that verse in the Bible that talks about taking the plank out of your eye before you help your brother with his. We need to do that ourselves. By ignoring the fears that we have, we continue to allow them to fester in our lives and prevent us from moving to a point where we can live comfortably in our skin. Removing fears don’t happen overnight, but being honest with yourself about them and making the decision to deal with them in some way is a key step.
Identify Fears In Others
When you're interacting with someone, put yourself in their shoes. Think about where they’re coming from, what their position is, what their motives might be, and what fears they carry with them. If you can identify those, you can help ensure that the areas of fear that they have can be addressed and played to without saying anything outright.
Build an Aura of Love
That sounds really cheesy, but bear with me: Once you’ve identified what the fears could be in others, you then have the ability to react in a way that counteracts that fear. For example:
You’re managing a project that has slipping timelines. You bring in the project lead, who is very defensive in his posture and in his non-verbal tones. You want to get to the bottom of what’s going on, but you need to address the lead’s fear: he doesn’t want to be seen as a failure, he doesn’t want to be seen as inferior to the other team leads (and hopefully you’re not thinking those things and are focussing on how to address the issues while making this employee a better lead through coaching).
So what would you do in that situation? Maybe you’d explain to the lead that you have concerns about the slippage and you want to better understand what’s happening. You might reassure the lead that you’re not looking at his performance in the situation but at the situation itself, and want to help find a solution. (If its true) You could tell him that he’s an important staff member and that you’re concerned about how out of character his performance is.
Does that sound too touchy feely to you? Why not just cut the bullshit and be blunt, frank, and direct? Because you’re forgetting that relationships are important. Life is who we meet plus what we build together, and that includes any staff that work under us to any CEO that we report to. People have value, and we need to treat them as being valuable.
The other thing this approach does is build trust. When another issue comes up on the project that the lead has to report, or you’re giving feedback about how to handle something better, or you have more questions about the project, establishing that you’re coming from a standpoint of love and caring for the individual and for the project will open up the communication channels.
However, the No-Asshole Rule Is In Effect
Most, almost all, people have some sort of baggage with them that carries fear. In most situations we have the power to mitigate these by aligning ourselves from a standpoint of love. But there are some that are, for all intensive purposes, pure ass holes. As much as we should try to engage those that come into our lives…
We should never compromise our integrity to allow someone else to exhort negative behaviour over us.
I worked at a place a while back with a co-worker who turned from friendly to not-talking-to-me after I got a promotion that oversaw the apps we were writing. I tried to extend the olive branch but was told by this person that we could talk about business but nothing else. This type of response shows obvious signs of…something. But why would I expend energy to try and foster a relationship with someone like this? The answer is: you shouldn’t. You wouldn’t willingly drink poison, so don’t willingly accept the actions of a toxic person.
However (2), Do NOT Limit Your Passion
One other point I want to make is that I’m not suggesting we roll over on our thoughts and opinions for the sake of making nice with others. Disagreements happen, but can you disagree without being disagreeable? Many times we’ll get into passionate discussions with others about any range of things, and those should not be avoided. The trick is to ensure that in the process we aren’t providing fuel for the fear fires.
Closing up Relationships
We’re at the end of the relationships segment, and ready to move on to the fourth R of the series. But before that let’s review the three posts in this part of the series:
No Man Is An Island – You need relationships. Don’t be afraid of them, learn to seek them out, and embrace those that come into your life.
Find Your Tribe – Once you’re comfortable with the idea that you need relationships, you need to find your tribe…those that act as your inner circle, your confidantes, your bff’s, whatever you want to call them. Lone wolfs are only attractive in Nicholas Cage movies, don’t seek that life out for yourself.
Learn to Deal With People – Finally, learn how to deal with people. Fears can bring any project or endeavour to a halt…mitigate those fears and see what amazing things you can build together.
Let me know your thoughts!